My Fair Lair

When I didn't have any friends, it made me feel like maybe I did.

50 Shades of Nay-Nay

I finally finished reading the blog recaps of 50 Shades of Grey courtesy of Jenny Trout. I honestly struggled to read about the last half of the chapter recaps for the third and final book, because even secondhand, the books are repetitive, boring, and also very disturbing in their portrayal of what essentially is an abusive relationship – and after 2 ½ books of purple prose and poor plots that barely add conflict and interest to a bunch of sex scenes, I was ready to say “Fuck it.” But I persevered, because even secondhand I’m OC about finishing something I start.

Bad characters, bad writing, scary implicationsCollapse )

That people are reading this and finding it to be an amazing love story or a kinky adventure in BDSM baffles me. It is neither. It’s terribly written story studded with porn that’s mostly vanilla and a relationship with more-than-subtle abusive undertones.

I would burn these books in acrimony, if I didn’t believe so strongly against that kind of thing.

Delayed home improvement post!
About a month ago, our lovely friend Nate came to visit for the weekend while his brother and girlfriend attended BronyCon 2014 down in Baltimore (and the BCC, the same venue as Otakon, it so happens). I took that Friday off so that Nate, Chuck, and I could tackle some home improvement stuff while Lucia was at school that morning. The list was not terribly long, but each item was certainly not the simplest:
Stuff and pics and stuff here.Collapse )

Minor updates, moderate literary rant
Not much to say lately; Lu’s out of summer program, we accomplished some home improvement (will post pics later) while Nate visited; Lu got diaper rash but it cleared up and we’re in the first stages of potty training her. Also, we’re going to visit Chuck’s parents over the weekend, whee!

I am, however, compelled to mention that I am reading another “So-and-so reads ____” blog, this time “Jenny Reads 50 Shades of Grey.” She liberally includes excerpts from the book itself, and those little tastes are enough to make me simultaneously livid and filled with ennui. The writing really does make Twilight (50 Shades’ source material - and it shows) look like high-quality work – the female protagonist is even more intolerable than Bella Swan, her friend’s actions and characterization are super inconsistent, and Christian Grey – a newfound masculine dreamboat for 50 Shades fans – is a controlling dickbag. But he’s so hot and super-rich! That makes it understandable and okay for the protagonist to totes fall for him! Loll!!11

Between the protagonist Ana’s subconscious (as a total conscious manifestation of something in her head – maybe ego? – thus rendering the title “subconscious” utterly inappropriate) and “inner goddess” reacting to situations, the author’s terribly inconsistency with how characters act and how others react to them, and just plain repetitive, boring bullshit, I utterly fail to see how anyone can bear to read this book and be aroused by it. Maybe if you skip to the sexy parts, but even those thus far have been kind of ridiculous – Grey’s stock porn dialog is laughable, Ana dreads her orgasms (wtf?), and the general descriptions are just okay; I have absolutely read better, both published and amateur. All the stuff around the sexy parts, though, is pretty stupid. We are privy to nearly every tedious event, to every needless detail about wardrobe, and to each idiotic, narcissistic, and adulating thought of Ana’s, liberally peppered with “Oh my”s (instantly I imagine George Takei’s voice) and “Hmm”s and exclamations of “Jeez.” To top off the shit sundae, the Briticism of the author is palpable and distracting in a work that supposedly takes place in Seattle, WA, USA, starring American people.

If it hadn’t already become this big deal bestseller-being-turned-into-a-movie thing, I’d never believe that people would read this and evangelize about it with such enthusiasm. Maybe that tiny bit of BDSM sex fantasy is novel enough to get the general readership going, shitty writing aside. And I get BDSM fantasy, really, I do – but this book is fucking insufferable even as that.
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Strange Spaces
I’m learning a lot about home ventilation and attic insulation this year.

Our home is pretty old – fortunately, it’s pretty liveable and in decent condition. No fundamental issues of mold, rot, insects, etc. – but there are quite a few strange conundrums there, one of which is the ventilation – or lack thereof – in our “attics” behind the kneewalls, as well as what I’d call the true attic at the apex of the roof.

There is a ventilation fan on the south side of the house, in the true attic area over Lucia’s room. However, it was not in operation during the home inspection, and it appears not to be working at all at the moment. We can’t even properly tell if it’s hooked up to the home wiring, and if so, where. The closest kneewall area to it is mostly filled by the built-out closet space that someone added in semi-recent history, obscuring the view of the space between the rafters where wiring might otherwise be visible. Usually such units also have a thermostat which causes them to kick on when it gets hot, but there is no control panel visible ANYWHERE in proximity to it. What the fuck.

The southwestern side of the roof (over our bedroom), meanwhile, gets quite hot. Really, the whole upstairs gets very toasty, but especially that room. There is no insulation at all behind the slanted portion of the wall – just airspace between the plaster and lathe and the inside of the roof. As far as we can tell, there is 0 insulation in the true attic space as well – the ceilings are frigid in winter and toasty warm in summer. This is what is currently inspiring me to just cut a goddamn hole in between the rafters over the upstairs landing and go the fuck up there and lay down some batts.

I went poking around in the crawlspace yesterday evening looking at the polystyrene baffles left there by a previous owner. These are normally used to allow airflow between spaces like our kneewalls and attic (when they are actually insulated with batts or other insulation fill, so it provides a rigid channel that keeps the fluff from blocking airflow needed in an operation that includes a fan drawing air out of the attic space), or between soffit vents to the outside and attic spaces. I found that the polystyrene baffles fit right into the spaces in the rafters – yay! - leaving a goodly chunk of space there for insulation, if we can find something rigid that can slide into the space underneath to shield the room within from the hot hot heat (some 1-1.5 inch radiant barrier might work). However, I could not determine if the soffit vents are open at all. Given, I was looking for light from the outside on a cloudy, rainy evening, but I didn’t see a thing. Since our fan is not operating, this might not be a problem as of yet. Also, the kneewall attic space was quite dry – very warm, but quite dry. The usual problem with improper ventilation and insulation, aside from poor temp control, is that humidity condenses in these uncontrolled spaces – either humid attic air condenses on cooler interior walls, or the reverse, and damages the wall material as well as making a happy home for molds and rot to wreck your living space. Our kneewall attics are dry and mold-free, however that may be because the upstairs is often closer to the temp of the attics, and there isn’t a lot of humidity being pumped into the living space OR the attic spaces. Except during the winter, I suppose – and then it isn’t a whole lot, just enough to moisten the air – not akin to the steam after a shower.

I half wonder if the fan isn’t currently working because someone opted to unwire it without de-installing it. Or maybe it stopped working – if there are no open soffit vents, it could have been struggling to vent hot air because there was no intake to complement the exhaust and broken down.

So, the questions remain – should we attempt to rehabilitate/replace the ventilation fan? If we do, will we have to actually open holes in the soffits where there are vented covers under the eaves?

My first instinct is to at least attempt to put the radiant barrier insulation along with the baffles in the slanty walls over our bedroom to at least reduce some of the heat conduction, and maybe fulfill my fantasy of slicing a hole into the true attic and laying down some batts of insulation to keep things cooler now and warmer in the winter. I suspect this would also let me know what’s up in Lu’s room vs ours; hers looks as though it’s been newly drywalled whereas ours is plaster; whoever drywalled MAY have actually insulated her room properly from above when they did so.

As for the fan and soffits, that may need to wait a little; it feels as though some of it is DIYable, but the project as a whole may require professional consultation and perhaps professional labor, something I’m not quite ready to take on at this point in the season/our home investment.

Another reason I'm glad...
My old coworker from Birds Eye/Pinnacle emailed me while I was out yesterday with a company update - Pinnacle is being purchased by Hillshire Brands for $4.23 billion (about twice Pinnacle's value), and Hillshire is based in Chicago. She indicated that there are no immediate consolidation plans, but that it sounded as though Hillshire wants a central office with everyone there, so it may well be in the works even if it won't come to be for some time yet.

So, that happened.

I am extra glad that I didn't accept the position, because this would mean being asked to move BACK to the midwest (something I'm not currently open to) after hauling everything to NJ for a handful of years. I mean, there are a kajillion other reasons that are more significant making me glad I am not at Pinnacle anymore, but man. The facility they fixed up in Parsippany has only been operating for about 2 years! They turned over a bunch of employees when they moved from south Jersey to north Jersey, then another bunch when they shut down Green Bay; I can't imagine how many people they will have to replace now.

My old coworker said one person at least came to her and sympathized with how many people in Green Bay must have felt when the shutdown announcement was made 2 years ago. My old coworker, happily, seems like she'd be fine with a move to Chicago area, as she's unmarried with a history of moving around (she worked in France for a time, too!) and her family is from Green Bay originally, and it's only 3 hours north of Chicago. So, if she goes with them, that may work out well. Also, it will make her quite experienced with Birds Eye history, because she was the only R&D person to stay with the company during the move, and even with her relatively limited experience she's been THE go-to person for questions on BEF development history.

Ah, the world of business.

UPDATE: A flurry of activity followed Hillshire's bid for Pinnacle; Pilgrim's Pride and Tyson Foods both made bids for Hillshire, both including the stipulation that Hillshire abandon the Pinnacle purchase. Tyson came out the high bidder, and they just finalized the merger. Pinnacle is getting $163 million as a breakup fee since their purchase was called off. So, no merger, no move, false alarm. I emailed Michelle later and she said everyone in Parsippany was relieved, but she was a little sad as she could use a change of scenery - not necessarily a new job, but one not in in NJ.
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Misunderstood Atheism
My Facebook frienemy posted a video of a Christian comedian arguing against atheism and “nailing it.” As I rather expected, he seems to be operating under the illusion that atheism equates to being offended, being nihilistic, and blind to the beauty of humanity and the world. I’d let it pass as it’s-funny-to-its-intended-audience-who-cares, but I find it bothersome to have the stereotype of a jerky atheist perpetuated, as I imagine any number of Christians are bothered by the stereotpye of the intolerant, hypocritical Christian perpetuated.

Here is the video of his "Atheists are Irrational" bit:

Let me address this point-by-point:
Because there are problems with what he's saying.Collapse )

Brad Stine, the audience you’re addressing to is being misinformed about what atheism is, and what atheists believe, why they object to the insertion of religion into government and public education, and where they think morals come from if not from God or the Bible or any other deity or religious text. For someone so turned on to seeing the beauty in the world and humanity, you sound very angry. I am truly sorry if people in the standup comedy community were shitty to you for being a conservative Christian – no one should shit on your beliefs. They should have talked to you about them, even if they questioned them and didn’t share them, and they should have shown respect for you just as you should show respect for them.

Life is just too short to be judgmental and terrible to eachother - that's true whether you believe in God or not.

And now, Sky Cake.

This Old House of Lies
Home improvement websites and magazines are chock-full of inspiring ideas and beautiful remodel pictures. However, I’m bothered by some of the trends I see.

Subway tile – not that I have anything against it; it’s a basic bricklike shape and in solid neutral shades it’s a classic backsplash/wall covering. But it’s frickin’ EVERYWHERE in bath and kitchen remodels these days. Subway tile subway tile subway tile. Maybe it’s just because I have lived with 4x4 square tile pretty much my whole life, and I don’t see anything wrong with it. The strange thing is that I can’t seem to find any period-specific info on the popularity of the subway tile shape vs. square tile shape. Wikipedia doesn’t have anything! What madness is this? As a side note, I am unbothered by hexagonal tile; in fact, I think it’s totally awesome even though / because it’s wicked old school.

Open storage/shelving/floating shelves in kitchen – yes, it does make that wall look more open. But did you notice how those shelves are only stocked with some matching glasses, neatly stacked colorful bowls, and food cans and boxes stacked in military regiment rows? Sorry, my kitchen shit is not that neat. Such open storage in my kitchen would look significantly less coordinated and pretty. Even if it started with coordinated wares and neatly-stacked foods, it would degrade with use. That’s living for you. This is the same reason I don’t really like glass-front cabinets - same issue.

“Small” room suggestions – these are a bit laughable to me, as I have a home with small rooms. Many “small” rooms in articles are like 25%+ bigger than my rooms. Given, many tips to maximizing the appearance of space remain valid, such as using lighter colors, mirrors, and scaled-down furniture; but lacking that 1-2 extra feet of room length or width makes all the difference when you need more storage or whatnot, and NOT having that extra bit makes many suggestions moot. Bleh.

Idea incongruity – these are just specific to me and my home ambition, and not really attacks on the validity of the ideas in someone else’s home. Kitchen chandeliers and pendant lights, for instance, work great in a kitchen that has a nice island in place. So far I have not lived in one of those kitchens. Same goes for pot racks – I don’t think we can fit one into our kitchen, which is a shame since we have a lovely high ceiling. There’s just not a good spot to hang it over without obscuring something else. Then there's “room division” – yeah, cause I want a smaller feel in my small room. Do only rich people use these home decor mags?

Refinished cheap vintage – I recognize that this can totally happen, and it probably just takes time and effort to get something vintage and cool for not too much money. But just in looking at lighting fixtures on that are 1920-1930 vintage, or at least art deco, I’ve noticed that a number of them are massively overpriced (I think more than $300 is a lot; many exceed that, and some of the pieces are over $1000 – usually the ones with intricate metalwork). I’m guessing it’s scarcity – time + breakable glass + corrodible metal + out-of-print design = higher monetary value. Oh, and increased interest in vintage design probably plays into it too. Fortunately, that renewed interest has inspired many companies to make vintage-styled new fixtures, so perhaps it’s not that big a deal. In the meantime, though, DAAAAMN that’s a lot of money for some old stuff. As an aside, I will laugh so hard if designs of the 1980s-1990s come back when I’m an old lady.

Craigslist is also frequently named as a source of miscellaneous vintage, but I go on there looking for secondhand and often end up with 30% or more listings being for retailers, not individuals selling their old goods. Man, if I WANTED retail, I'd search retail. Get off the craigslists, you're crapping up my search results.

I forgot to mention here that in February we took Lucia for a behavioral evaluation, basically to ascertain if there was a professional opinion that she continue behavioral services through the school system when she starts preschool in May.

A young female doctor brought us into her office, which was outfitted not only with her desk but a small round conference table, a low scool desk, a rack of toys, and a sink and cabinet setup. Lucia was allowed to play freely while the doctor asked questions of Chuck and me, then she tried to interact with Lucia and get her to perform certain tasks - draw a straight line, make a tower, make a "train" line of blocks, follow a 2 step instruction, instigate her to ask for help, etc. Lucia did fairly well, but she doesn't have alot of tolerance for being ordered around to such different tasks in close succession, especially by a stranger. She tolerated it decently for a little while, but after a while was fed up and it became difficult to corral her into the task the doc wanted to do.

The doctor was concerned that she wanted to play mostly with the blocks and the toy helicopter, rather than switching back and forth - this would be classifed as "obsessive behavior." I thought that was a bit odd, since it seemed pretty normal to me that a kid would pick a favorite and fixate on it, at least for a little while. She also has a habit of flapping her arms when either really excited or really upset, which is a sort of sensory-seeking behavior.Overall the doc thought that yes, behavioral services should continue into school, and that at this point Lucia probably falls somewhere in the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Added Edit: the specific diagnosis she made was PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified). However, at this age, this could just be a blip on the developmental radar that won't have any serious long-term consequences.

This really comes as no shock, as I myself probably fall into that spectrum a bit. I'm massively uncomfortable in new social situations without any structure, and given the choice between free socializing and doing some task, I'd MUCH rather do a task. That I managed to fit in with the Sushi Meetup Group in RI is a small miracle; I tried it out on a whim, and it turned out great because a number of people there were a bit like me (and I guess an enthusiasm for sushi creates a bit of a structure in which to operate). As for obsessive behavior - well, look at my nerdy life so far. Chuck is quite similar.

I'm not really all that worried about the diagnosis overall; it means Lu will get some extra attention going into school which she likely will need - potential autism aside, she is a strong-willed child and will need firm but compassionate guidance. All kids have challenges to overcome as they grow; this just happens to be her set of challenges. My only worry just at the moment is her discomfort with other children. She showed some of this with the therapy group in Delaware - a few other kids were quite loud and rambunctious, which she is not fond of - and just yesterday she ran away when the little boy next door who is about her age ran up excitedly to say hello. Preschool will hopefully be helpful in getting her used to other kids because her "special needs" class will be maybe 6 kids, with about 3 teachers. I just wish we had the family meetup group like we did in Green Bay; as infrequently as we attended it was at least something to get Lu out and about with other kids and adults.

I suppose it's part of being a parent to always feel a bit like you should be doing more to help your child adjust to the world. It is, however, important to remember that a child is its own person, and a parent cannot force them to be and do all the things that a parent thinks the child should, even if the child is quite malleable and cooperative. A child needs to find out who they are outside of a family context, and the process starts early.

Domestic prejudice
I have these internal moments of realizing my own prejudice that make me uncomfortable but are very hard to surmount. A recent moment had to do with young girls/women whose ambition is to be a stay-at-home wife/mother. I don’t think I feel as much weirdness around adult women who are already IN the role of stay-at-home parent and homemaker (maybe because many often worked before motherhood), but for some reason that ambition in a younger female makes me squirm inside.

Why is this?

One reason may be that I myself am not a stay-at-home parent, and I never saw that role as my high goal. Also, most women I am friends with are also working/professionals. But my own MOTHER was a stay-at-home parent, and she rocked it hard. She cooked, cleaned, crafted, sewed, made sure we made it to our checkups and dental appointments and eye exams. She only worked outside the home when my sister and I were beyond elementary school, doing independent wallpapering and painting so that she had the flexibility to start after we left for school in the morning and could get back home around the same time as we did. Another good friend of mine is not a parent (avowed child-free) and has been more or less a housewife for most of the time I have known her, and somehow that doesn’t creep me out – this may be because she HAS held jobs, and has independently sold her crafts online, and became more "domestic" when she was in her mid-20s.

But teenage girls saying “I want to get married, keep house, and have kids” creeps me out to no end. Is it because they’re so young that they might end up regretting the choice to not learn professional skills later, when they perhaps feel constrained in a stay-at-home role without the tools to explore outside employment? Is it because it plays into a patriarchal model that seems to give less power to a wife, and puts her in a vulnerable position economically (even setting aside divorce, what if the husband is disabled or dies?)? Is it because it goes with the flow of gender determinism in which it is assumed that women’s role is that of homemaker and child-nurturer, and therefore NOT a role of professional and provider? It may well be all of those things.

I feel as if a teenage boy professed that he wanted to be a stay-at-home parent, I would applaud him rather than feel anxious for him (though I might wonder if he fully understood the demands of the role, because I also have the prejudice that many young people, males especially, don’t know/can’t deal with all the gory details of childrearing and housekeeping). But I also feel that society at large assumes a young man will take on a profession outside the home, and that he will be prepared for that; even if he becomes a stay-at-home spouse/parent he at least will have an idea of how the professional world works should he desire or require entrance into that world.

When someone suggests that young women should be offered an education in homemaking and childrearing, I also balk – primarily because of the specific mention of young women rather than young people as a whole. Young men should absolutely be given a course in how to keep house and care for children – not only is it plausible that they may opt for a homemaking role, but there are important life skills to be learned in housekeeping for all. Shopping for healthy food and reading nutrition labels, cooking food to safe temperatures, doing laundry, maintaining appliances, cleaning a home, mending clothes, keeping a budget, balancing a checkbook, basic childcare… I’m sure there are more. These could simply be categorized under “Life Skills” and there’s no need to specify a particular gender that needs it.

Everyone needs to how not to suck at life. Not just men, not just women, everyone. If both genders didn’t learn these overlapping skills we’d all be struggling to learn late in the game and/or stuck in an awkward symbiosis with the opposite sex.

I wonder if I can get around this prejudice a bit if I think about the individual skills of homemaking and childrearing (cooking, cleaning, maintenance, child care, etc) as a career in itself. After all, childcare professionals are professionals – so are cooks, housekeepers, handymen/women. If someone’s ambition is to keep house and raise kids, well, they’d better be prepared to do it as though a paycheck depended on it – ie., to the best of their ability. They should ROCK that shit. A good homemaker isn’t lounging on a couch eating bonbon; they’re getting shit done so the family can have a non-filthy home to live in and good food to eat.

Homemaking is a big job, and I should respect those who aspire to it even if those individuals aren’t eligible to vote yet.

Lady Marmalade
I am determined to make some marmalade. I got a sudden yen for it last weekend while I was toasting up some English muffins, realizing that we really didn't have much in the way of jellies or jams to spread on toasted baked goods. I actually did make do with a bit of Honey Citron "tea" mix as it is very marmalade-esque, and it was pretty nice, but I know I can make some marmalade myself.

I then remembered seeing marmalade recipes using kumquats, which are curiously delicious fruits with tart juice/flesh and sweet rinds. I ran out and snagged some from the grocery store, and looked about for recipes. However, the internet offers some different methods for kumquat marmalade, mostly having to do with the prep of the fruits themselves. Perhaps I'm being obtuse, but the instruction to "remove segments" from kumquats seems silly - they're ridiculously small - so recipes advising to simply slice thinly win my vote. Other advice often included saving the seeds and any pith, so that it can be gathered and tied in a cheesecloth bundle to infuse with the rest of the sliced fruit and juice. The Joy of Cooking does not advise this step, but pectin is derived from these parts of citrus fruits, so perhaps it is valid. I still think a scientific experiment would be useful (though I think I will save that for a bigger batch).

So this weekend I am definitely making some kumquat marmalade. It's a long process; the fruit must soak in water to extract the pectin for about a full day before proceeding with the standard jam/preserve process. I just need to make sure I end up with a proper 'lade, rather than a citrusy syrup (which I'm sure would still be delicious, but harder to keep on a toast slice).

While referencing the Joy of Cooking, I noticed another recipe that sounded intriguing: Lime Marmalade. I looooove limes. The smell of a freshly sliced lime is definitely in my top 5 sensory experiences. And, limes are usually cheap and readily available in most markets here, especially H-Mart. I'm intrigued to try the recipe out, though I'm a bit confused with the instruction to essentially discard the peel of the limes (and extra lemons) called for in the ingredients. The finely sliced citrus peels are, to my mind, the characteristic feature of a marmalade. So, why eliminate them? At the least I would expect the zest to be sliced and used, if not the pithy bits. The internet yields some recipes that call for this, but also many that call simply for juicing the limes, removing the remaining pulp, and slicing up the rinds. Well, anyhow... I think it would be interesting to make a ginger-lime marmalade. Eventually.

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